We discussed social responsibility with flexible packaging professionals Andrew Wheeler from Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp., and Giancarlo Caimmi from Nordmeccanica Group.

Do companies have a responsibility to meet the social needs of their stakeholders?

Wheeler: Yes, at Windmoeller & Hoelscher we believe they do. We are all — companies as well as individuals — a part of the same greater community, the same greater generation and, in broad terms, the human race. In this, we are responsible, independently and through our businesses, for contributing to the sustainability of our planet and well-being of our communities.

Caimmi: It is everyone’s responsibility these days to comply with social duties. Companies, as complex organizations affecting multiple aspects of social life, are definitely involved. The involvement required should be, in an ideal world, in an order of magnitude compared to the size, social influence and the environmental impact of each company. Efforts are made globally to harmonize profits and social duties. Influenced by local culture and local politics, companies also might act differently depending on regional norms. 

I am personally of the opinion that safety and social responsibilities are not a cost but actually a savings.  While this may not be the general perception, it has been proven by the variety of situations that I have been able to witness while travelling worldwide.

What are some of the obligations your company recognizes?

Caimmi: Social responsibility is a mindset that is part of a company culture. When such behavior is part of the company patrimony, it is then applied to every activity or involvement. Fortunately, Nordmeccanica follows good ethics and social responsibilities while respecting the culture of a geographic area and industry practices. In Europe, there are many social obligations that are mandatory, but also many that a good company can implement voluntarily. Nevertheless, Nordmeccanica is global, and we apply the same approach worldwide. Attention to well-being is a philosophy applied to every employee as well as to every user of our products. Environmentally each Nordmeccanica facility pays attention to energy savings and works to reduce emissions. Product-wise, we are the original developer and implementer of the most advanced technologies in our industry that reduce or eliminate emissions while lowering energy consumption.

Wheeler: We feel strongly about figuring out solutions to the problems that plastics and packaging are having on our environment. It’s important for Windmoeller & Hoelscher to understand the whole value chain, which is why we’re are active in groups like CEFLEX in Europe, which promotes a circular economy for flexible packaging. Here in the U.S., we are actively having conversations to gather information and help us understand current challenges and potential solutions. On our direct homefront, we are passionate about keeping our workforce employed and providing them with tools for their long-term health and financial stability. As a company, we also support a myriad of philanthropic efforts.

Does your company have goals to meet these obligations and how does it measure and report progress on these goals?

Wheeler: We measure progress on all of our projects and initiatives. Within our organization, we encourage our employees to provide feedback about their benefits and the services we supply so that we can meet their needs. With our customers, our goal is for their production to yield an excellent and responsible end product as well as profits. Regular conversations provide this feedback.

With initiatives like CEFLEX, there are deadlines for measurement, such as the goal to increase the number of countries that recycle by 2020 and to have a collection, sorting and reprocessing infrastructure in place by 2025.

Caimmi: The variety of aspects affecting social responsibility involves a number of professional competencies for a company that makes complex capital equipment.  There are multiple approaches on how we rate our progress and goals. From the “zero accidents” approach in our factories to the safety of our products and everything else in between, our company culture prompts these actions and decisions. Let me call such an approach “quality.” A good work environment, safe products and environmental responsibility all help improve quality, from product quality to the quality of life. We try to involve employees, customers and all those affected in any way by our activities and products. The market is the first judge. Being recognized as the market leader is the indication we seek from the industry to affirm that we act appropriately. In addition, we do have internal procedures implemented to continuously monitor goals that are constantly revised and implemented.

Packaging is seen by many as detrimental to the environment. How important are sustainable practices to the packaging industry? As a supplier to converters and brand owners, how is your company helping its customers meet their social responsibility goals?

Caimmi: This is a tricky question. Do not take me wrong; we must continue implementing sustainable practices. However, simply asking a question of this nature may trigger the understanding that the industry is guilty. We are not. Proper packaging in general, and flexible packaging in particular, is a solution.

The largest amount of solid urban waste remains food. To the benefit of our social responsibilities, proper packaging improves shelf life and reduces food waste. As an industry, we should act to send this message out.

The dolphin in the ocean does not die primarily because of the behavior of consumers in developed countries or because of an excess of packaging. Dolphins die because there are countries in the world dumping huge amounts of garbage of all types into the ocean. Floating plastics have become the target of questionable press and environmentalist campaigns.

That said, the industry must do its best to reduce the number of layers and the thickness of substrates in a laminate, while using substrates that are easier to recycle or which will decompose. We must also make the effort to source raw materials from renewable sources. However, there will be no benefit for the global environment until politicians act to influence the behavior of those countries polluting the oceans. Until then, those countries will happily continue to do so regardless of the thickness of the plastics used and recycled in developed countries.

As a supplier to converters and brand owners, how is your company helping its customers meet their social responsibility goals?

Wheeler: W&H is committed to manufacturing equipment that gives our customers the tools to do what is necessary to produce excellent quality products as sustainably as possible. We have a motto that drives all innovation at the company. It’s called “Greenovation” and is our formal commitment to manufacturing machinery for the sustainable production of flexible packaging. This means continually looking for ways to use less energy, generate less waste and use fewer raw materials to effectively manufacture products.

Caimmi: In our specific case, as a machinery manufacturer, we help converters by providing products that are operator friendly, safe to use, characterized by the lowest energy consumption rate allowed by modern technologies. We spend a lot of effort in promoting and developing technologies that are energy and pollution friendly. Our products are technically complex, and it takes a lot of research, know-how and dedication to make them operator friendly and simple to use while performing at the top of the industry. Nevertheless, we go the extra mile to meet social and environmental responsibilities. We can proudly say that we are blessed with a good market share, and we perceive this as an indication that the industry appreciates our efforts. Regardless, we still have a lot to do to keep implementing and perfecting products and services. That remains our daily task.